McAdam: As players press, offense stalls

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McAdam: As players press, offense stalls

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- In the course of analyzing the Cleveland Indians' approach to Josh Beckett Tuesday night, manager Terry Francona indirectly got to the real cause of the Red Sox' 3-1 defeat to the Indians, their fourth in a row to begin the season.

"Give them credit," said Francona. "They did a really good job grinding out at-bats. They did it better than we did."

Indeed, while Beckett was needing 106 pitches to get through five innings, Josh Tomlin pitched seven innings and needed only 91 pitches. While Beckett labored through some at-bats that appeared endless, Tomlin enjoyed three innings in which he faced just three hitters and one other in which he faced four.

From the third inning through the eighth, the Sox collected just one hit -- a leadoff single by Dustin Pedroia in the fourth quickly erased by a double-play from Adrian Gonzalez one hitter later. The Sox didn't get another hit until Pedroia added a one-out single in the ninth.

Boston had just three baserunners in scoring position all evening.

It wasn't hard to figure out what was going on. After being outscored 26-11 in Texas last weekend, Red Sox hitters evidently tried to get it all back with one at-bat.

Gone was the careful approach with which the Red Sox usually operate, wearing down the opposing pitcher by working the count and forcing him to throw the ball over the middle of the plate.

Instead, an impatient Sox' attack was overly aggressive, resulting in ground balls being pounded into the infield or hit meekly into the air. The same lineup which scored 10 runs in the first two games in Texas has now been limited to just two runs in the last 20 innings.

The starting pitching, which failed to keep them in the first two games has gradually gotten somewhat better. The offense, meanwhile, has unmistakably gotten worse.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

"We're swinging at stuff out of the zone," acknowledged Pedroia. "We're anxious. Everyone wants to do good. That's what happens when you see a lot of check swings."

Gonzalez, who has cooled after piling up five hits in the first two games, pled guilty to impatience after an 0-for-4 night.

"We did a really poor job of being selective and getting good pitches to hit," he said. "We're just going to have to get better at that."

Francona has tried juggling the lineup with little to show for his shuffling. He stuck with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had been hitless over the first three games with 10 strikeouts, and was rewarded with a run-scoring single in the catcher's first at-bat.

But the middle third of the Boston lineup -- Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz -- was a combined 0-for-9 with three walks.

Six of Boston's regulars are hitting under .200 through the first four games.

Were this the middle of the season, the offensive skid could be written off as the byproduct of a long season, part of the natural ebb and flow of the 162- game grind. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

But because the slump is happening in the first week of a season in which expectations are almost impossibly high, the problem gets magnified. Correspondingly, the players, eager to turn things around, grind their bats into sawdust rather than grinding out at-bats.

Then there's some plain bad luck. In the ninth, with a hint of life against closer Chris Perez -- first and third with two outs -- Ortiz flicked a liner toward the left field foul line. But the Indians had Austin Kearns inexplicably shaded that way and Kearns needed only to take a couple of steps to stab the ball for the final out.

"I put a good swing on it," shrugged Ortiz. "There's nothing much you can do about it. I was surprised the left fielder was playing there. He got there easily. I guess that was one of those magical moments coaches who position fielders get right. What else can you do? Nothing. I did what I was supposed to do - put a good swing on the ball. That's about it."

The lineup is too good to continue failing like this. Ortiz and Gonzalez knocked in 100 runs each last year and Youkilis undoubtedly would have reached that milestone too had he not missed time with a thumb injury. Crawford gives the Sox another athletic table-setter to go with Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia.

"When you're facing this kind of situation," said Ortiz, "you definitely want to get the first one out of the way. That's how things get started. Everybody's trying; probably some of us are trying too hard. That's baseball, though - you want to make things happen."

Right now, however, they're not. And everybody knows it.

Pedroia predicted that the onslought is coming. The lineup can't be bottled up for ever.

"Once we settle in though, it's going to be good," vowed Pedroia. "It's going to be good stuff."

But just four games into the season, the losses and the frustration mounting, time is of the essence.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."

Friday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: Porcello goes for win No. 23

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Friday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays lineups: Porcello goes for win No. 23

The A.L. East-champion Red Sox, still fighting for playoff position, field their usual lineup as they open David Ortiz's final regular-season series tonight (7:10) against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox (92-67) are two games behind the Texas Rangers (94-65) in the race for the best record in the A.L., with the Cleveland Indians (91-67) a half-game behind Boston.

Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.11 ERA), the likely Game 1 starter in the ALDS, will try to add to his Cy Young Award resume tonight. He’ll be opposed by right-hander Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.53).

The Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles (both 87-72) are tied for the A.L. wild-card lead with the Detroit Tigers (85-73) 1 1/2 games back.

It’s the final regular season series for Oritz, with ceremonies planned to honor the retiring Red Sox DH prior to each of the final three game this weekend. 

The lineups:

RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia 2B

Brock Holt 3B

Mookie Betts RF

David Ortiz DH

Hanely Ramirez 1B

Xander Bogaerts SS

Jackie Bradley CF

Sandy Leon C

Andrew Benintendi LF

Rick Porcello P

 

BLUE JAYS

Eziquiel Carrera LF

Josh Donaldson 3B

Edwin Encarnacion DH

Jose Bautista RF

Russell Martin C

Troy Tulowitzki SS

Justin Smoak 1B

Kevin Pillar CF

Devon Travis 2B

Marco Estrada RHP